Pointing to the significant amount of time and money spent on the appeals process, the Pennsylvania Superior Court denied Pepper Hamilton’s request to end its appeal in the defamation case that was brought, but recently discontinued, by the estate of Joe Paterno.
A three-judge panel held that the appeal over the disclosure of Freeh report-related documents must go on, even though the Paternos dropped their lawsuit alleging the conclusions in the report defamed the late Penn State football coach.
The Freeh report was commissioned to investigate circumstances surrounding serial child sex abuser Jerry Sandusky.
Pepper Hamilton, Freeh report namesake Louis Freeh’s former firm, objected to the production of the documents and appealed a ruling allowing a swath of those documents to be designated discoverable.
But Superior Court Judge Victor P. Stabile wrote in the court’s opinion that seeing the appeal through is important to the legal community.
“This court noted that the appellant allowed the case to proceed through extensive briefing, application of the machinery of this court and, finally, oral argument before requesting a discontinuance,” Stabile said. “In declining to permit the discontinuance, we stated ‘[w]e will not allow a litigant to avail himself the full process of the court, and then permit that litigant to remove the case from the court’s jurisdiction at the very last possible moment.’”
He added, “Instantly, this court has devoted considerable time and resources to this appeal, including a detailed remand for clarification of the issues before us. Moreover, the issues we have addressed are of significance to the entire bench and bar. Because the panel has twice heard argument and reviewed two sets of briefs (pre- and post-remand), and because the panel has reached agreement on the merits, we deny the application to discontinue.”
Thomas E. Zemaitis of Pepper Hamilton did not respond to a request for comment.
Penn State and its former officials have faced a seemingly unending slew of legal troubles stemming from the Sandusky scandal.
In October 2016 a Centre County jury awarded $1.15 million for defamation, $1.15 million for misrepresentation and $5 million for punitive damages to Michael McQueary, who has long claimed that he saw Sandusky rape a boy in 2001 and reported the incident to his superiors soon after. The suit claimed that the school wrongfully fired him only as a result of his cooperation with investigators, as prosecutors began to build a case against Sandusky.
The university also faced an arduous battle over insurance coverage for the $90 million it paid to settle claims from Sandusky’s victims.
More recently, on March 24, a Dauphin County jury found former Penn State president Graham Spanier guilty of a misdemeanor for failing to properly act in the face of reports that Sandusky had molested a child, but also acquitted him of a felony count of child endangerment and a related conspiracy charge.